Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World
Armstrong, Jennifer. 1998. Shipwreck at the bottom of the
world: The extraordinary true story of Shackleton and the
Endurance. New York: Crown Publishers.
This is the riveting story of twenty-seven men who fight for survival
in the toughest climate on Earth. Sir Earnest Shackleton leads
the expedition that intends to be the first to cross the Antarctic, but
instead becomes a nineteen-month struggle to get back to civilization
after their boat is destroyed in the ice of the Antarctic circle.
Thorough research by author Jennifer Armstrong is the scaffolding on
which this thorough account is built. In her
acknowledgements (p.128) and bibliography (p.129), Armstrong reveals
her extensive research and numerous sources. Her access to
primary sources at the Scott Polar Research Institute (a logbook of one
of the sailors, original photography from the trip) add details of both
the logistics of the trip and also aspects such as the relationships
between the men during their ordeal.
The story unfolds in a manner that gives the reader the ability to
follow the steps of the stranded sailors day-by-day. Readers are
able to chart their progress as it is described in the text on maps
showing the terrain and routes taken by Shackelford on both Antarctica
and South Georgia Island. The book is divided into logical
chapters that have titles that hint at what is to come and seem to mark
significant changes in the journey. Some chapters begin with
scientific information that impart information vital to
understanding. As an issue arises in the story that needs some
background scientific information, Armstrong presents this in a precise
manner and then goes on to recount how this was used during the
sailors' journey. One example would be the chapter titled Into the Boats (p.72).
Armstrong begins with a six paragraph history and explanation of the
tools the sailors used to track the location of the Endurance, and then segues into the
rest of the chapter which deals with the crew navigating the icy waters
of the Antarctic in their search for dry land.
While graphic design elements using different map symbols (Compass
Rose, dotted lines with arrows) add to the theme of the story, it is
expedition photographer Frank Hurley's pictures from the actual journey
that give the reader an accurate picture of the dire situation.
The haunting faces stand out in stark contrast to the frozen landscape
and offer information in addition to the text. What a
disappointment to read that some photographs had to be destroyed during
the course of the journey. (p.55)
Armstrong's passion for telling the story of the sailors from all
angles is evident in her attention to many aspects of the story.
Not only does she recount the journey, but she also delves into
Shackelford and his skill as a leader. This adds an interesting
look into the human experience and allows readers to absorb information
about the qualities of a good leader. Armstrong's extensive index
lists twenty pages that give information about Shackelton and his
leadership of his men. A particularly poignant moment is when
Shackelton, called "The Boss" by his crew, returns to rescue the men
who stayed behind on Elephant Island. " "We knew you'd come back," one
of the men said to him. As the Boss said later, it was the
highest compliment he had ever been paid." (p.123)